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A novel by Jude Watson (1999, Scholastic Paperbacks)
Book 3 of the Jedi Apprentice
44 years before Star Wars: A New Hope

The two Jedi attempt to wrest control of a planet from a tyrannical ruler.



3 stars

Read November 8th to 9th, 2001  
    Getting better, but the book didn't really hit its stride until it was half over.  I liked the plot, and I really enjoyed the way Obi-Wan's character developed during the second half.

The plot of this book came about naturally enough.  I thought it was a bit convenient that their ship had an emergency landing on the Phindian homeworld, where Obi-Wan's friend Guerra (from The Dark Rival) lived.  But there was a hint when Qui-Gon mentioned Guerra's name in a disparaging way, with a jolt of the ship, that I was sure the Pilot knew him.  Of course, the Pilot ended up being Paxxi, Guerra's brother.  

After the Jedi find their way into the town, and observe the zombie-like Phindians, they know that something is wrong.  When they see the elegantly dressed Phindians speed by, they know that these people must be in charge.  They meet up with Paxxi and Guerra again, and are chased out of their cantina by guards.  At every step of the way, the two Jedi were drawn in deeper.  They had no choice but to go with the flow.  

I thought Guerra was cute in Dark Rival, for the little time that we saw him, but here, he was even better.  I was surprised that his "Not so!  I lie!" didn't get annoying, it was used to often.  It actually became funny at points, especially when Qui-Gon had to put up with it for so long.  I wonder if it's a Phindian thing, or if this is just a family trait, for his whole family said something like it.  In any case, because the Phindians lied so often, information was divulged little by little, at a slow and convenient rate.  This makes it less of a simple plot convenience, as it was in Starfighters of Adumar, where it was divulged slowly because of a stupid pretense that the author decided to use.

The two Jedi seemed to be thrown into the plot.  They were always reacting to things here, never acting, until near the very end.  This is fine for a short while, but it get tiring after a time.  I hope they start doing some acting of their own soon.  They stage a raid on the Syndicate main building, where they know the government keeps stockpiled all the things that people need.  They only distribute it to keep people alive, never more than absolutely necessary.  Hungry people are less likely to be able to revolt.  When a routine inspection of the vault (emptied to a warehouse) stumbles upon them, the two Jedi react by killing all the guards, and hiding the bodies, with no remorse whatsoever.  When they reach the main vault, they require an "anti-register" device that Paxxi created.  But it was stolen by the government, and is probably sitting in the warehouse.  

The turning point of the book comes when Obi-Wan is captured.  The raid into the warehouse goes well, and they recover the device, but the armor coat that they stole has a tracking device in it, and people who are out of their designated area are arrested.  My main question here was what about the other three coats?  Why was only one registered as being in the wrong place?  That question is never even raised.

I absolutely loved Obi-Wan's memory wipe.  Using the Force, he boxes up his mind and awaits the procedure, similar enough to what happened to Richard in Wizard's First Rule for me to make the comparison.  We get to follow his resolve all the way, and he survives.  The wiping process hit the right notes to sound real, and Obi-Wan did all the right things.  He was able to fake the blank expression and the right emotions, to fool everybody.  His quick thinking in front of the man on Gala who wanted to kill him was hilarious, and his escape from the recorder drone was also very well thought out and well-staged.  

For the Syndicate made a game out of their memory-wipes.  They send the memory-less people to other planets, with recorder drones following them, and laugh at their problems. It seems a bit odd that Obi-Wan was sent to Gala, where their mission was originally to go before they got sidetracked to their current situation.  

On Gala, after he ditches the drone, Obi-Wan accidentally comes face-to-face with Prince Beju, the evil man who wants to lead Gala.  He had caused a false Bacta shortage on his planet, and planned to be a hero by bringing some back from Phindar.  Obi-Wan tricks the guards, locks up the young Prince, and takes his place.  I wonder if Obi-Wan fell into the role of an evil Prince too easily?  Maybe he has a little bit of Dark Side potential there...  But as Spock said in the classic Star Trek episode Mirror, Mirror, it is much easier for a sane man to act crazy than it is for a crazy man to act sane.

When Qui-Gon finds out Obi-Wan was memory-wiped, he is nearly overcome with grief.  But as they observe the Prince landing, he recognizes Obi-Wan, and uses the Force to find out that the boy is fine, if a little out of his league.  One of the leaders of Phindar (Terra, Guerra's sister, who was memory wiped years ago) is killed when the other finds the treasury empty, after Qui-Gon and the Phindians emptied it.  Each one thinks the other is a betrayer.  Obi-Wan feels terrible about that death, because he knows that Terra was essentially reprogrammed as a mean person.  

But he has to keep the charade up, and he goes to the warehouse, where the Phindian public is about to riot, after seeing so much in the way of goods stored out of reach.  Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon help the Phindians get their supplies, arrest their leader, Baftu, and remove the Bacta from Prince Beju's plane.  But the Prince escapes his bonds and takes off back to Gala, where presumably we will meet up with him in the next book again.  

The ending was a little simple-minded, but it was very exciting!  If only the beginning was this exciting, and some of the middle.  If we could get a good start, middle and then an exciting ending again, we would be in great shape with this series!  I did have a problem with all the names of the people involved, however, and it appeared that the author had some trouble keeping them straight, too!  The names were too similar, either ending with "a" or starting with "B", and being one or two syllables.  That's a minor complaint, but it made reading the last few chapters a little more difficult.

It also seemed to me that the time scale in this book seemed a little out of whack.  I wondered how we got to Obi-Wan's birthday so quickly, when we had so many weeks to go in the last book, and we seemed to pick up on the same or the next day as that one ended.  I suppose the time could have been spent while Obi-Wan worked the undersea mined in the last book.  But I was confused about the history of the Syndicate.  It is implied that they have been around for a long time, because people remember what it was like before the Syndicate.  But Terra (Guerra's sister) was mind wiped when she was very young.  It may be nothing more than a misunderstanding on my part, but the timeframe seemed to conflict depending on how long the author needed to have it around.  

I definitely didn't like the anti-register device.  I don't like any superweapon or super decoder that is necessary for the plot.  Better for Paxxi to have found the codes for the door to the treasury instead of having to use this device.  Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan are so concerned about the device, that the Syndicate could become invincible, that it is yet another Galactic Menace.  But then they turn around and say that it cannot be used on the headquarters of the Syndicate.  Then it can't be that powerful, can it?  

I think the series is getting a little better.  The last book was underwhelming, but this was was pretty fun.  It was still missing some much-needed depth (yes, even in a young readers book), but it is coming along.  The contrivances, with the device, the inability of Qui-Gon to even try and help after being told that the city was locked down, and the weak and wandering beginning, are all relatively minor.  And they got out of the way of the plot very quickly once we got to an actual plot.  And, as I've already said, the ending was exciting, and I liked Obi-Wan's impersonation of the Prince.  

If we can keep up this level of interest, I'll be happy with the rest of the series.  For now, things seem to be on the upswing.  This was a decent outing, but I know we can do better!


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